The 10 best Super Bowl ad gimmicks in modern history

GoDaddy used a Super Bowl gimmick in 2014 when it featured a woman quitting her job on live TV.

Once upon a time, Super Bowl ads stood on creativity alone. Like, say, Coca-Cola’s Mean Joe Greene spot or Apple’s 1984 - or even Budweiser’s Frogs. And then somewhere along the line, brands and agencies realized they could get a whole lot more bang for their buck by releasing Super Bowl spots early. And now, of course, teasers and early releases are par for the course.

This, in turn, means it’s harder than ever for brands to make a distinct impression on Super Bowl Sunday. And so some have resorted to what I’ll call the Super Bowl Gimmick.

This year there are a handful.

Live from the Super Bowl, it’s…

Hyundai

Take Hyundai, for example. The reigning USA Today Ad Meter champ boldly declared its plans to shoot a 90-second documentary during the February 5, 2017 game, which will air during the first commercial break after the last play.

It’s an ambitious plan, but details are still relatively sparse. Patriots Day Director Peter Berg will be behind the camera. And, in a statement, chief marketing officer Dean Evans said the brand will give “some deserving fans an experience they will never forget.”

Snickers

Snickers, too, is going the live route this year in another 30-second riff on its “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry”-theme. The live ad will air during the first commercial break of the third quarter and feature actor Adam Driver, “other less famous actors,” stunt horses and a showdown, according to one teaser.

The brand will also livestream from the set starting February 2 at SnickersLive.com.

As of January 27, the four teasers had amassed about 600,000 views on YouTube.

GoDaddy

Snickers claims to have the world’s first live Super Bowl ad this year, but in 2014, GoDaddy, too, integrated a live component when puppeteer Gwen Dean quit her job as a machine engineer in the middle of its Super Bowl commercial. The video went on to generate about 1 million views on YouTube and marked a significant shift from some of GoDaddy’s more controversial Super Bowl ads, like, say, model Bar Refaeli kissing a nerd.

Squarespace

And in 2016, website-building platform Squarespace tapped comedy duo Key and Peele as two aspiring sportscasters who provided live commentary – on a Squarespace website, naturallyeven though they were legally blocked from using player names or specific game terms.

The spot itself ranked toward the bottom of the 2016 Ad Meter, but it has had more than 3 million views to date on YouTube.

Riding coattails

Heinz

Instead of another Super Bowl buy, Heinz is following up its 2016 Weiner Stampede hit with a Change.org petitionto make the Monday after Super Bowl Sunday – Smunday – a national holiday.

It enables the brand to capitalize on interest in the game without forking over more than $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime.

As of January 27, the petition had nearly 33,000 supporters.

Newcastle Brown Ale

But it’s beer brand Newcastle that may be most closely associated with Super Bowl newsjacking thanks to its 2014 If We Made It campaign.

According to agency Droga5, a microsite -- IfWeMadeIt.com -- housed “teasers, trailers, focus groups and even ‘behind-the-scenes’ footage featuring [actor] Anna Kendrick and [football player] Keyshawn Johnson for the commercial that would have been, if only Newcastle had the mega-huge budget and permission to actually advertise in the big game.”

The videos racked up millions of views and the campaign itself was widely lauded as one of the best of the year.

All together now…

Newcastle followed this effort by playing on a similar theme in 2015’s Band of Brands. That’s when Newcastle essentially crowdsourced a regional Super Bowl buy with help from 37 other brands.

Calling it the “craziest, most jam-packed, most fiscally responsible big game ad ever,” Droga5 said, “Band of Brands democratized big game advertising, leveling the playing field to give tiny businesses a chance to be seen on the largest marketing stage of all. Once again, we proved you don’t need big bucks to build big buzz. Football is a team sport. Now, marketing is, too.”

Doritos

But it’s Doritos and its decade-long Crash the Super Bowl contest that might have bragging rights as the original Super Bowl Gimmick – with another crowdsourced effort.

The contest began in 2006 when Doritos asked consumers to submit their own 30-second ads “whose sole purpose was to extol their devotion to the Doritos brand,” which was a pretty revolutionary idea at the time.

In its ten-year run, it yielded spots like Ultrasound, Middle Seat and Time Machine.

According to Doritos, consumer-created Doritos Super Bowl ads consistently ranked within the top five spots of the Ad Meter, taking the #1 ranking four times. And as a result of their participation, the creators of these ads were awarded millions of dollars and received commercial work, Hollywood representation and “other life-changing experiences.”

Other ploys

Intuit QuickBooks

In a not dissimilar vein, small business accounting software provider Intuit QuickBooks put the spotlight on the little guy in its Small Business Big Game contest, which has offered 30-second Super Bowl ads to small businesses. In 2016, the winner was Death Wish Coffee, which claims to roast the world’s strongest coffee. In 2014, the winner was educational toy company GoldieBlox.

In addition, Intuit gives itself a nice little plug at the end and pushes the hashtag #TeamSmallBiz.

Butterfinger

With a little help from former NFL player Terrell Owens and comedian Billy Eichner, Butterfinger offered to pay the fines of football players penalized for excessive on-field celebrations up to $50,000 as part of its messaging that encouraged consumers to be bold.

It was an interesting add-on, but Butterfinger’s 2016 spot, Bolder Than Bold, did not rank particularly well in the Ad Meter.

Miller High Life

In 2009, brevity was the soul of wit for Miller High Life, which released a one-second regional ad with a beer delivery guy exclaiming, “High Life!” Per an Ad Meter rep, it aired on 25 local NBC stations, reaching about 60% of the audience, but it was not eligible for Ad Meter because it was not part of the national broadcast. It did, however, reportedly promote a microsite, 1secondad.com, which had additional one-second ads and it fit nicely within the brand’s thrifty messaging versus big spender Anheuser-Busch.

Honorable mentions

And if the adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” holds true, additional brands have generated some Super Bowl buzz by perhaps courting controversy.

In 2014, that included home carbonation system SodaStream, actor Scarlett Johansson and the phrase, “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi," which was banned, but generated more than a few headlines happy to cite Johansson alongside “uncensored" in stories featuring the original spot.

In 2016, T-Mobile played off of what may or may not have been an intentional flub from host Steve Harvey in the 2015 Miss Universe pageant. And, as a result, T-Mobile netted more than 10 million views on YouTube alone.

And in 2017, it is first-time advertiser 84 Lumber, which saw its original concept rejected by broadcaster Fox because it reportedly included imagery of a wall that the network deemed too controversial.

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